Dean Long, of LAUS, only needs two minutes to perfectly explain how every educator should be thinking about social media.
While I'm numbering these parts 1,2,3, etc., the sections themselves won't be in this order in the actual curriculum, this is just the order in which I'm finishing them. This section is towards the front. Please forgive my process : )
Your comments and critique, as always, are appreciated.
As society gets more connected, and technology gets cheaper, we collectively switch our tools faster. Social networking is just one example of many. Getting to 150 million users took the telephone 89 years. Television reached 150 million users in 38 years. Facebook did it in 5. The problem for Facebook is that the competition will do it in 3.
Back in the good ol' days, schools had to provide phones in the residence halls. Because the school provided it, the school could limit access and control the use. Values could be imposed on to the new tool. When the phone entered the residence halls, Resident Assistants metered usage to prevent overuse or abuse. The schools' values also came bundled with other school provided technologies - computers, email, and software.
Technology was expensive and complicated and this meant limited supply and easy control. Institutions in general and schools in particular became used to the control. Without frenetic competition, purchasing decisions had a more thoughtful pace.
Now, no student needs their college to provide an email - there are hundreds of ways a student can set up a free email account. Many students can afford their own computer, many more can afford cell phones that are increasingly as useful as a laptop computer. With website functions quickly supplanting installed software, students have both access and control of their technology.
A values debate that might lead to learning, about what is useful or appropriate, gets confused with simple fight about control of technology. High schools ban cell phones. Higher education fumes about behaviors it sees as unwarranted risk, unjustified by student benefits that are often dismissed as "not real". Overvaluing control prevents the institution from recognizing other possible institutional values, like connection and mentoring, in the new technology.
Students did not need, or ask for, permission to use Facebook. They simply found it useful. Where it was briefly banned by by a few campuses, students used proxy servers to get to it. This is the same technique monks in Myanmar and protesters in Iran used to get information in and out of the country. Institutions try to control. Mobs grow restless. The internet changes the balance of power.
Like many institutions, Higher Education, on average, has struggled to match the pace of technological change. The challenge then, for schools, is to catch up with the students. To accept the tools so that the school can be back in the business of modeling, teaching, and exploring values.
As technology costs drop, especially with web tools, the primary difficulty is no longer capital or hardware, the difficulty is in updating the ideas of the institution.
The big advantage students have is that they don't have old habits to unlearn. The don't need committees to approve anything. They just use what works for them. They don't have to be convinced to give up the way they used to do it to accept the new way.
It's totally normal to resist change, for individuals, institutions or societies. Especially when the change comes at a cost of lost power and control. Any progress comes with backlash. This pattern is as old as history. At least as old as written history.
Writing, as the technological innovation of its day, had a powerful educator against it: Socrates. Plato quotes him, in Phaedrus, on the terrible effects of writing:
“[It] destroys memory [and] weakens the mind, relieving it of…work that makes it strong. [It] is an inhuman thing.”
The backlash serves a purpose. It can help clarify values. Holding firm to values while changing with the times is not a new dynamic for colleges. Individual colleges will continue to find their rate of change according to their leadership, community and culture. The problem is that the world outside of academia continues to accelerate. Schools now have less time to react and still be relevant.
Socrates had almost 2000 years until Gutenberg's press gave the masses the incredible power of literacy. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, one could still agree with Socrates in practice, be illiterate, and still be successful. Being literate was not a requirement for success, though the educated and literate had a massive advantage. We are in that same position today with technology- schools who can move quickly to blend their values with the possibilities of technology will provide that huge advantage to themselves and their students. Students, as always, need to learn to value learning.
In effort to accelerate the blending of old values and new practices, let me address some of the common objections I hear when talking with administrators, staff and faculty. In general, my explanations will only convince those that want to be convinced. Perhaps that is useful. For those more hesitant, models of instructors successfully encouraging educational values with current technology will be more compelling. We will review those later in this text.
The students networking ability and skills will improve along lines of practice and intentionality. There is much we, as an older generation, can do to help students expand their thinking and increase their intentionality. We jeopardize much of our credibility, however, when we start by dismissing half of their world as something less than real.
"How can someone have 500 friends on Facebook?" (They're obviously not real friends, it's just some sort of popularity contest.)
In social capital theory there are two main categories for relationships: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding capital is limited to close friends, usually around three. Bridging capital in the past has been capped at around 150, known as Dunbar's limit. This number comes from Robin Dunbar whose research lead him to believe that 150 people is the carrying capacity of our social memory, after 150 it gets too hard to remember who is dating who. Bonding capital is made up of the people we share secrets with and the shoulders we cry on. Whereas bridging capital is made up of relationships based on things like high school, geography, church affiliations, and random happenstance. Friendships exist on a continuum between very tight bonding capital and very loose bridging capital.
According to Facebook's numbers, the average person on Facebook has 200 "friends," while the number is slightly higher among college students (Source: TechCrunch NDSU 2007 Survey). Because everything that happens online is trackable Facebook has an incredible amount of data and insight into the social capital structures of its users. Based on the research that they've released, it seems that bonding capital has not changed with Facebook use. People still have, on average, three close friends that they interact with substantially more than anyone else in their network. Bridging capital, however, has dramatically changed. With the use of Facebook the carrying capacity for bridging capital has increased allowing the people to easily maintain double, or more, Dunbar's limit.
The concern implicit in the objection that people have "too many friends on Facebook" is that the idea of friendship is being watered down. Facebook is not devaluing friendship. For the sake of simplicity all connections on Facebook are referred to as "friends" but every user maintains their own distinctions between bonding and bridging relationships. Facebook is a power tool for bridging capital. Bridging capital will contain new ideas, new opportunities, and seeds of new relationships to spark growth. 500 "friends" is a lot of positive bridging capital. Facebook makes this possible. The opportunity for the university is to teach students to make the bridging capital development process intentional.
"Are you going to tell me I have to be on Facebook?" (Because I'm too busy / old / bad with technology / professional to do that.)
It is beneficial to be on Facebook to give you some personal experience with the way students communicate in their social world. It's your job as an educator to prepare students to be successful in the world in which they live. Social belonging will be a foundation for their success and Facebook is a common part of that world. If you are between the ages of 30 and 85 there are currently 75 million of your peers on Facebook (and at current growth rates, that number will be 3 times larger by the time you read this). The most important thing to keep in mind as you explore is that you are in control. You determine what you share, who you share it with, and how much time you spend on Facebook.
Think of showing up on Facebook like you're going to a school barbeque. It's not a classroom, let your guard down a little bit. Be authentic. As to friending students on Facebook, the general guideline is to let students request to be your friend rather than the other way around. This is out of respect for the inherently imbalanced power dynamic between the instructor and student.
For the sake of this curriculum supplement, the information to follow will be more approachable if you have the experience of a Facebook account. So if you don't yet have one, set down this book and go to http://www.facebook.com and set one up, it will take you about twelve minutes.
“Technology is a major part of our kids’ worlds, and that is not going to change. Parents need to know what their kids are doing in their digital lives, and they have to be well informed about issues like privacy, ethical behavior, digital literacy, and cyberbullying. When parents understand these potential pitfalls and communicate with their kids, the internet can be an educational, entertaining, and safe environment.”Not surprisingly, research shows that the more educated and engaged a parent is in their child's online activity, the more positively they see the internet's potential.
If you haven't yet subscribed to Weblogg-ed, make sure you do so. Will Richardson is spot on with many of his posts about digital literacy. His latest post, Filter Fun, talks about his on going frustration with schools putting filters on internet use and the potential damage caused.
...I truly believe that filters make our kids less safe. They step off the bus into unfiltered worlds with no context for making good decisions about the stuff coming at them. It’s a huge problem. But on some levels, the bigger problem is what we are doing to our teachers. It insults the profession to not at the very least provide desktop overrides for teachers when they bump up against a filtered site. Have a policy in place to deal with incidents where teachers make poor choices if that’s what the concern is...The only way we’re going to get students, or teachers, to master the Web is to let them use it.